On November 2, 2016, Sonia Cacy’s 23-year ordeal as a victim of faulty fire science finally came to an end. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) declared once and for all that MS. Cacy was factually innocent of arson and murder. Some further detail may be found here. Mr. Lentini first became involved in this case in 1998, when he reviewed the data produced by the Bexar County Crime Lab. The lab analyst reported finding gasoline in a sample of the victim’s clothing. Mr. Lentini determined that there was no gasoline. No fewer than ten other fire debris analysts confirmed this negative finding. The Texas Science Advisory Workgroup also found that Ms. Cacy’s conviction was based on invalid fire science.
Based on Mr. Lentini's review of the evidence used to convict three individuals of arson and murder in a 1980 Brooklyn, NY fire that killed six people, three individuals had their convictions vacated. William Vasquez, Amaury Villalobos and Raymond Mora were convicted of arson and six felony murders in 1981. The New York Times covered the story as did the Daily News and the AP.
These names will be added to the National Registry of Exonerations where they will join several others that Mr. Lentini helped get released from prison after wrongful convictions
Mr. Lentini's work on the case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Han Tak Lee covered more than two decades. In August 2014, Mr. Lee was released from prison after 25 years in custody. The Lee case was the subject of a story by writer Mark Hansen, which appeared on the cover of the December 2015 edition of the ABA Journal
Most of the important documents from Mr. Lee's case can be found here.
John Lentini was recently selected as the Society of Fire Protection Engineers "Person of the Year" for 2015. His selection was based on a the following nomination, submitted to SFPE by Dr. Craig Beyler:
John Lentini has been a motive force in the reform of the fire investigation community to reflect our modern understanding of fire science and engineering. Trained as a chemist, John initially worked as an analytical chemist, analyzing fire debris samples for ignitable liquids. He made substantial contributions to the science of fire debris analysis and has chaired ASTM Committee E30 on Forensic Sciences and is a long time member of Technical Committee 921 on Fire Investigations.
John moved into the broader areas of fire investigation and as a scientist recognized the lack of scientific basis for fire investigation as it had been practiced before NFPA 921. John joined the 921 committee in 1996 and has been a strong advocate for investigation methods based on fire science. As Manager of Fire Investigations at Applied Technical Services, he authored over 3,000 technical reports. He supervised two fire investigators and an electrical engineer, while managing a chemical analysis laboratory for fire debris using gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS). He analyzed more than 20,000 samples. He has served as project manager for major fire investigations, conducted site inspections, chemical analyses, designed and conducted physical experiments to recreate fire scenarios. He has provided training, consulting and expert witness testimony. Since 1975, he has given expert testimony in over two hundred cases in civil and criminal court in state and Federal Courts. He has testified for both Plaintiffs and Defendants, and has twice served as a neutral expert hired to advise the court.
John has been called upon by the Dept. of Justice to serve on its NIJ Technical Working Group on Fire Investigations, and to contribute to "Fire and Arson Scene Evidence: A Guide for Public Safety Personnel." He was invited to give a presentation on "The State of the Art in Fire Investigation" to the National Academy of Sciences during its preparation of the report, "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States, A Path Forward."
While John's contributions the field of fire investigation are worthy of recognition, it is his contributions to the justice system with respect to arson cases that raise him to the level of a "Person of the Year". The legacy of fire investigation methodologies not based upon science has been the inappropriate convictions in arson cases based upon the non-science based myths of earlier fire investigations. John has worked tirelessly to identify cases where inappropriate fire investigation methods have resulted in arson convictions. He has worked regularly with the Innocence Project to identify cases of inappropriate arson convictions and working tirelessly on appeals for these convictions. He was a member of the Innocence Project committee that reviewed the Willingham and Willis cases in Texas in which errors were found in both cases, though in the case of Willingham only after he had been put to death.
John works tirelessly to educate his fellow fire investigators on the methods of scientifically based fire investigation methods. This teaching work led to the publication of his book, Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation, now in its second edition.